Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to accurately describe the stance of advocacy group Walk Bike Nashville.
The baseline speed limit for Nashville neighborhoods may be lowered countywide this year. Officials are preparing to study whether 25 mph — down from 30 — would be a safer standard.
Metro has already tested lower speed limits in three neighborhoods, finding that speeds came down and that residents were overwhelmingly pleased. Now the Metro Council is considering whether to request one more study before reducing the speed for all “local” streets.
“A number of neighborhoods have been asking for lower speed limits for a long time. I would say years, even,” said Burkley Allen, one of seven Metro Council members backing a bill that favors the change.
She says research shows that car crashes and pedestrian strikes are more survivable at lower speeds.
“So many neighborhoods are becoming walkable now as we increase our sidewalk infrastructure,” Allen said. “Making those safer places to be, both as a pedestrian and a car driver, is the primary goal.”
Last year, Metro Public Works reported the outcome of its speed limit tests in three neighborhoods, finding widespread support from residents (
see study here). The test period didn’t fully achieve the speed reductions that officials sought, “but it did make people drive slower than they were driving when the speed limit was higher,” Allen said.
Public Works is generally supportive, says Jeff Hammond, assistant director for the department.
“We just need to be smart about it,” he said.
For example, Hammond cautions that not all streets classified as “local” feel the same to drivers and pedestrians; that 25 mph could feel too slow or too fast in some places, depending on the width of the road or the types of housing or businesses nearby.
He also said more research is needed to determine how to roll out such a sweeping change, perhaps with some walkable urban neighborhoods converting before others.
“Anytime we make a change — I don’t care if we put in a four-way stop or a traffic circle — we get opinions to the contrary,” Hammond said.
If approved, the change could take a few months. There’d be an awareness campaign, and for a while police would focus on issuing warnings. Plus, some 4,000 signs would need replacing.
In a statement, Mayor David Briley said he agrees it’s time to review neighborhood speeds.
The group Walk Bike Nashville praised what it calls a “first step,” and said it also endorses the idea of allowing neighborhoods to request a speed reduction to 20 mph. The group is also pushing for lowered speeds on collector and arterial streets, although such changes are not currently under official consideration.
Allen said 20 mph is a long-term goal for neighborhoods and that she’s considering an option by which neighborhoods could request such a reduction.